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On Thursday, 13 bound corpses, many apparently shot execution-style, were found in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour near the Iraqi border. The men were believed to be workers for an oil company. It was unclear who killed them.
The U.N. said in March that more than 9,000 people have been killed in the conflict. Activists have put the toll far higher, saying 13,000 have died. The uprising began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests calling for reform but morphed into an insurgency as the government launched a brutal crackdown and many in the opposition took up arms.
U.N. rights body condemns Syria over Houla massacre
Members of the U.N.’s top human rights body have voted to condemn Syria over the killing of more than 100 civilians last week.
The 47-nation body approved with 41 votes against three a resolution blaming “pro-regime elements” and government troops for the massacre in the Houla region that sparked international outrage.
Russia, China and Cuba voted against the U.S.-backed resolution Friday. Two countries abstained and one member didn’t vote.
The resolution also call for an “international, transparent, independent and prompt investigation” into what happened and echoes calls by U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay for the U.N. Security Council to consider referring Syria to the International Criminal Court.
The Houla massacre was one of the most brutal attacks. Both sides have blamed each other for the killings.
On Thursday, Syria claimed up to 800 rebel fighters carried out the Houla massacre, giving its most comprehensive explanation to date of the bloodshed.
The government’s narrative starkly contradicted accounts of witnesses who blamed "shabiha," the shadowy gunmen who operate on behalf of Assad’s regime. The U.N. also said it had strong suspicions those pro-regime gunmen were responsible for much of the carnage in Houla.
Even if the shabiha gunmen were responsible for Houla, however, there was no clear evidence that the regime directly ordered the massacre.
In another development, a previously unknown Syrian rebel group said it is holding 11 Lebanese Shiite pilgrims kidnapped on May 22 after crossing into Syria from Turkey on their way to Lebanon. The group calling itself Syrian Rebels in Aleppo said in a statement obtained by Al-Jazeera TV that the hostages are in good health.
The statement included photographs said to be of the hostages and their passports. Al-Jazeera, which aired the photos Thursday night, did not say how it obtained the material. Its authenticity could not be independently verified.
The group claimed five hostages were members of the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group and demanded its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, apologize for comments he made in a speech last week. The group did not specify which comments they found offensive. Nasrallah, an ally of the Syrian regime, had said the kidnapping would not change his group’s stance.
The group said negotiations for the release of the hostages could begin after Nasrallah apologizes.
Nasrallah, speaking through video link to a conference in Beirut Friday, urged the kidnappers to release the hostages.
"If you have a problem with me, there are many ways and means to solve this," he said. "You want to solve it through war, so be it. You want too solve it peacefully, we can ... But leave the innocent people aside."
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin and Frank Jordans and John Heilprin in Geneva contributed to this report.
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